Poetry. Indigenous Australian Poetry.
When Teena McCarthy told me she had constructed this book from poems, lines, phrases and images that she had written on odd-sized pieces of paper and had gathered them until they formed a manuscript, I immediately thought of Emily Dickinson, who also wrote many of her poems on the backs of envelopes and scraps that had been used as shopping lists. The connection is not far-fetched: McCarthy connects startling images to form intense visions that vibrate with arresting music.
The poems in BUSH MARY work on multiple levels – woven from history, life experience and metaphor are visionary chords made of words. Images appear gradually, sometimes over several pages, like photographic prints forming in developing chemicals. I want to use the word ‘mystical’ here – harsh and beautiful, these poems ache with reality and seem to bring poetry back to life again. This book reads as if written by a poet working before the last century of modernism; albeit aware of that era, it comes from the pre-dawn of poetry before it became clogged with the ‘anxiety of influence’ and experimental verse. Maybe the poems trace mystic notes.
McCarthy’s visions and dreams – abstract stories – bristle with a technique and meaning that became a triumph. It’s the confidence of a poet who has nailed it, then shaped her season in hell into an instrument that sings. It is poetry created from transformed traumas, and importantly, effortless praise, for both survivors and old ghosts that flash behind the present moment or line from the past. As we read, yesterday, today and tomorrow mix, and a generous spirit is revealed that doesn’t grow bitter even after every rotten deal has been broken and served up to the poet and her people. There’s only the poem, only the new life to be written and lived out, only the song that strikes into your soul, reinventing love and compassion by its flashing words and naked statements.
In the fifth century, Saint Augustine said, "A virgin conceives, yet remains a virgin: a virgin is heavy with child; a virgin brings forth her child, yet she is always a virgin." McCarthy, almost 2000 years later, replies, "We can no longer escape / into the truth of Bush Mary, / we’re non-virgin, / used by carnal. / She is every body. / Bush Mary blood’. Then, like Eurydice, ‘She has no voice." McCarthy creates that voice in profoundly visual poems, and answers the colonising First Fleet and its following Christians: "She is a single mother / with a bush / She is the fucking Holy Ghost."
Teena McCarthy is a Barkindji Italian woman who is a descendant of the Stolen Generations. She is a visual artist and poet who works in painting, photography and performance art. Her work documents her family's displacement and Aboriginal Australians' loss of culture and thier hidden history. In 2019, she was a featured artist at the Head On Photo Festival. In 2018, she was the inaugural winner of the King & Wood Mallesons Contemporary First Nations Art Award for her work Kopi in the Mourning and a finalist in the 65th Blake Prize. She was a finalist in the 70th Mosman Art Prize and a finalist in the Parliament of NSW Aboriginal Art Prize 2014 and 2015. McCarthy graduated with distinction from UNSW Art & Design in 2013 as a painter. She started exhibiting in galleries and - always with an interest in poetry - began her cross-practice forms shortly thereafter.